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Also referred to as the Canaries, the Canary Islands are an archipelago in the Atlantic Ocean, about sixty miles west of Morocco, in Northwestern Africa. The Savage Islands are about one hundred and thirty-five miles to the north.

The Canaries are an autonomous community of Spain and part of the outermost regions of the European Union. Since 1927, the capital of the autonomous community has been shared between Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria.

There are pre-independence political parties in the Canaries, but they have thus far been non-violent and don't currently have a lot of support. However, more than 40% of the population considers themselves to be more Canarian than Spanish, leaving nearly 50% who identify with Spain and the Canary Islands.

There is evidence that the islands had been visited by the Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians, but when King Juba II of Numidia discovered the islands around the 1st century AD, they were reportedly uninhabited, but he found a small temple of stone and the remnants of some other buildings.

The eight inhabited islands of the archipelago are Tenerife, Fuerteventura, Gran Canaria, Lanzarote, La Palma, La Gomera, El Hierro, and La Graciosa. There are also several smaller islands and islets, not permanently inhabited, which include Alegranza, Isla de Lobos, Montaña Clara, Roque del Oeste and Roque del Este.

When Europeans explored the islands during the Middle Ages, they found indigenous people on the islands who were living at a Neolithic level of technology. Beginning in the 1300s, sailors from several European countries visited the islands. The Majorcans established a mission on the islands that was operational from 1350 to 1400.

The Castilians took the islands in 1402. The French explorer, Jean de Béthencourt, assumed the title of King of the Canary Islands but retained allegiance to King Henry III of Castile. Béthencourt established a base on La Gomera, but the natives of La Gomera, Gran Canaria, Tenerife, and La Palma resisted the Castilians for nearly a century. It wasn't until 1495 that all of the islands were under the control of the Castilians, after which they were incorporated into the Kingdom of Castile.

The Castilians began growing sugarcane on the islands, and the ports of Santa Cruz de Tenerife and Las Palmas de Gran Canaria were busy, and a stopping point for Spanish ships on their way to the Americas. The islands became wealthy, and their wealth soon attracted pirates and privateers. In 1599, a Dutch fleet of 74 ships and 12,000 men attacked Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and the Castillo de la Luz, which stood guard over the harbor. The Castillo was surrendered, but the city did not. The Canarians fought back and, although the Dutch pillaged several villages, they were eventually forced to withdraw.

A British fleet under the direction of Horatio Nelson attacked Santa Cruz de Tenerife in 1797. The British lost the battle but, during the fight, Horatio Nelson lost his right arm.

During the 1700s and 1800s, several Canary Islanders emigrated to Spanish American territories, as its sugarcane production had come under stiff competition. In the latter part of the 1800s, about 40,000 Canarians emigrated to Venezuela. In the early 1900s, the British introduced banana production to the Canary Islands.

During the 20th century, the rivalry between Las Palmas de Gran Canaria and Santa Cruz de Tenerife for the capital of the Canary Islands heated up, eventually leading to the partitioning of the islands into two provinces in 1927. This rivalry continues today, with the capital being shared between the two cities.

Francisco Franco was named General Commandant of the Canaries in 1936. That same year, he joined a revolt which was the start of the Spanish Civil War. Although the war never came to the Canaries, the suppression of political dissent fostered an interest in communism and the formation of nationalist parties in the Canaries. After the death of Franco, an armed movement based in Algeria declared the islands an African territory under foreign rule. When a constitutional monarchy was formed in Spain, the Canary Islands were granted autonomy in 1982, although it remained a Spanish community.

The Canaries have thirteen seats in the Spanish Senate, eleven of which are directly elected, the other two indirectly elected by the autonomous government, which is administered by a president.

For the past five centuries, the Roman Catholic Church has been the most prominent religion in the Canary Islands, claiming adherence from about 85% of the population. More than 12% of Canarians claim no religion, and there are small populations of Protestants, Muslims, Buddhists, Jews, Baha'i, and other religions.



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